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Expert blog: An Ofsted reset: too late and too little?

Dr Chris Rolph and Dr Andrew Clapham from the Nottingham Institute of Education discuss why Ofsted proposals to change the inspection framework do not go far enough.

education and school concept little student girl studying at school with hand up
Inspections can miss much of the good work that schools do

The announcement regarding restructuring elements of the Ofsted inspection process, exemplifies tensions between successive governments and the education sector.

School inspections have formed the backbone of how the quality of education schools provide is assessed, but as far back as 2015, teachers were telling us of the intolerable pressure resulting from inspections.

Whilst schools have to be accountable, inspections miss much of the work schools do and ignore teachers’ professional expertise.

While some teachers we have spoken to welcome the proposed changes, this is only because even small changes are better than none.

The key issue is the intention to continue to summarise the breadth, depth and richness of schools’ work in a single-word judgement on a four-point scale.

Teachers and head teachers have long questioned how ‘fit-for-purpose’ the entire inspection system is and are highly critical that the changes do not apply to these one-word judgements, nor to the complaints system.

Teachers tell us that they are extremely worried of the effect inspection had on every aspect of how schools work – and particularly upon teachers’ health and wellbeing.

Amanda Spielman has said that schools may be quickly re-inspected if an inadequate judgement is reached as a result of ineffective safeguarding practices, so that they can demonstrate improvements, but this will not happen until after the damning grade has been published.

While changing the language of reports to talk about “the school” rather than named individuals will take a little of the focus off the headteacher, school leaders will continue to feel undue pressure both during and long after inspections that question their leadership.

These changes are the outcome of terrible events.  The question remains, why – despite the professions’ concerns about Ofsted expressed over many years - it takes such events for government to start to listen?

Ofsted have an opportunity to completely review inspection in order to provide forensic insights for parents through a detailed narrative, which should always be followed by support and intervention—for all schools, because not even outstanding schools are perfect.

This could help to turn the inspectorate into the school improvement partner it aspires to be, instead of a judgemental regulator that damages careers and lives.

Dr Chris Rolph, Director of the Nottingham Institute of Education
Dr Andrew Clapham, Associate Professor of Education Policy, Nottingham Institute of Education

Published on 12 June 2023
  • Category: Press office; Nottingham Institute of Education; School of Social Sciences